It used to be fairly easy to determine why the US decided to intervene in conflicts in the third world. Whether a person agreed with such actions or supported a more isolationist policy, the answer to the question “why?” was more simple during the Cold War: much of the time, we backed the side the Soviet Union was against.
Those hot wars around the globe very often were used as proxies for the larger war known as Cold. Because it would have been way too lethal and destructive for the US and USSR to duke it out directly, and each country had allied itself with different factions around the globe, this was the way such conflicts tended to play out.
In the the case of Libya today, if one looks at Qaddafi’s history, he’s a sort of idiosyncratic socialist as well as an all-around bad guy who has offended nearly everyone with whom he’s dealt over the many decades he’s been in power. There is indeed some history of cooperation between Qaddafi and the Soviets, especially during the 1980s when there were many arms sales by Russia and a host of “advisers.”
That’s certainly not what’s in Obama’s mind these days, however. What is? Obama himself says he’s intervening in Libya because (a) the international community decided it was a good idea, and (b) it is for humanitarian reasons. I would even believe him, since these are the two traditional reasons for the left to support a military intervention, except that of course both were also highly true in Iraq (in fact, see this), and we know that not only did Obama oppose that war but he even opposed the surge after it was successful. But hey, consistency is not his bag.
John Hawkins has seven questions for liberals about Obama and Libya, but they really pretty much boil down to one: why aren’t you mounting the same criticisms against Obama that you used to hurl at Bush for Iraq?
It’s rhetorical, of course. Hawkins knows why, and is calling them to task for hypocrisy. On the other hand, I have been surprised at the fact that, although the vitriol is nothing like that generated for Bush, quite a few liberals are indeed angry at Obama for Libya and some have even called for his impeachment over this.
Another reason Obama is intervening now in Libya might be that he got tired of all the previous criticism for doing nothing in Iran as well as for his early hands-off policy in Libya. In Egypt he spoke up against Mubarak, and probably feels a bit heady at the fact that he got what he wanted, easy as pie. Qaddafi is another breed of cat entirely, one who may end up having nine lives.